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A Quiet Life by Ethan Joella

Contemporary fiction

A Quiet Life

by Ethan Joella

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Quick take

Consider this life-affirming story about loss and community the cup of hot cocoa you need to make it through winter.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Multiple_Viewpoints

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Inspirational

    Inspirational

  • Illustrated icon, Sad

    Sad

  • Illustrated icon, Suburban

    Suburban drama

Synopsis

Set in a close-knit Pennsylvania suburb in the grip of winter, A Quiet Life follows three people grappling with loss and finding a tender wisdom in their grief.

Chuck Ayers used to look forward to nothing so much as his annual trip to Hilton Head with his wife, Cat—that yearly taste of relaxation they’d become accustomed to in retirement, after a lifetime of working and raising two children. Now, just months after Cat’s death, Chuck finds that he can’t let go of her things—her favorite towel, the sketchbooks in her desk drawer—as he struggles to pack for a trip he can’t imagine taking without her.

Ella Burke delivers morning newspapers and works at a bridal shop to fill her days while she anxiously awaits news—any piece of information—about her missing daughter. Ella adjusts to life in a new apartment and answers every call on her phone, hoping her daughter will reach out one day.

After the sudden death of her father, Kirsten Bonato set aside her veterinary school aspirations, finding comfort in the steady routine of working at an animal shelter. But as time passes, old dreams and new romantic interests begin to surface—and Kirsten finds herself at another crossroads.

Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of A Quiet Life.

A Quiet Life

CHAPTER ONE

When Chuck Ayers thinks about Cat, he thinks about the faded yellow-and-white-striped towel that lately he has been wearing around his neck like a wrestler on his way to a match.

That damn towel.

She used it for every bath, the towel hanging over the linen closet door to dry afterward, the smell of her pink soap as he walked by. And when they drove those hundreds of miles to Hilton Head every winter, she took the towel along, and it became her beach towel. Even as she got older, there was something alluring about the way she draped that towel around her body, or shook it out over one of the lounge chairs at the pool in South Carolina.

What can he do with this towel now, this towel he should have buried with her, this towel that he sleeps with some nights, this towel that hangs there, that stays wherever he leaves it?

He should fold it and put it into a box on a high shelf in the closet with the word towel written on it so he never forgets. So he never opens it again. So he never remembers her holding the towel over her arm, so naive, unaware that the towel would outlast her, that she’d never have a chance to donate it, to tear it into cleaning rags, to use it to protect something in the attic: an antique lamp, an old mirror.

He is glad for a second it didn’t come to that. That she got to use the towel fully and without stop.

And that is the first thing in forever he has been glad for. December 29, late in the afternoon, and the sun is going down. The quiet street is shadowed and darker outside the windows. Instinctively, Chuck lights the small ceramic Christmas tree and switches on the front porch light. He looks out the window and notices all the other houses. He imagines good smells of dinners, random sounds of family: someone calling up the steps, the surge of a dishwasher running, dice from a board game, wineglasses clinking.

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Why I love it

I fully believe in the healing power of the holiday season—wearing a scarf breeds empathy, I’m convinced. Every year I commemorate the season with a novel that reminds me of the resilience of the human spirit. Enter A Quiet Life, the perfect antidote to a biting wind and a cure for all existential ennui.

When we first meet our three lead characters, they are experiencing deep emotional strife. Chuck, a recent widower, can’t bring himself to throw away any of his late wife’s belongings. Ella, reeling in the wake of her daughter’s disappearance, is just trying to make it through each day. Kirsten has put her grad school plans on hold and wonders whether she’s allowed to seek out joy after her father’s sudden death. As these people’s lives cross in unexpected ways, we are reminded of everything there is to live for—the smallest connections that see us through our dark winter nights.

A Quiet Life argues that everyday life can be incredibly moving, and I am more than happy to buy into this idea. Ethan Joella makes such careful observations about the way we interact with our environments and those we love, how easy it is to touch someone with kindness. This book made me think differently about how I move in the world, and I suspect it will have the same transformative effect on you.

Member ratings (3,857)

  • Anja T.

    Clarksdale, MS

    I love it, just like Mr. Joella’s last book. His characters are so real and you want to see them happy and at peace with what they’re struggling with… there’s room for mistakes and grace in his books!

  • Allison A.

    Prosper, TX

    Such a beautifully written book. It’s full of loss, sadness, and heartache, but also so full of hope, kindness, and love. You can’t help but feel and root for the characters. You’ll cry, laugh, & love

  • Heather W.

    Cypress, TX

    I’m not gonna lie- I typically pick books based on the covers and made an exception for this one since I wasn’t into many of the options last month. What a nice surprise, though. I DEVOURED this one.

  • Taylor F.

    Fort Wayne, IN

    There’s no cross-country adventure or thrilling mystery, just a snowy PA winter and honest introspections—yet the profound connection and poignant moments the main characters share are deeply moving.

  • Tessa J.

    Spokane, WA

    This book is just what I needed. I have been dealing with grief this past year and I knew this book would be difficult at times, but it warmed my heart and these stories helped me accept where I’m at.

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Contemporary fiction
View all
The Last Love Note
Anita de Monte Laughs Last
Honey
The Leftover Woman
Interesting Facts about Space
Bye, Baby
Swan Song
The Connellys of County Down
Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life
Jackpot Summer
Adelaide
The Collected Regrets of Clover
Again and Again
Evil Eye
Black Cake
Maame
Romantic Comedy
Someone Else’s Shoes
Once There Were Wolves
We Are the Brennans
The Bad Muslim Discount
What Comes After
Olga Dies Dreaming
Last Summer at the Golden Hotel
Monster in the Middle
My Dark Vanessa
Nine Perfect Strangers
The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany
The Girl with Stars in Her Eyes
Honey Girl
In Every Mirror She's Black
Yinka, Where Is Your Huzband?
Sankofa
The Unsinkable Greta James
The Love of My Life
The Five-Star Weekend
The Magic Strings of Frankie Presto
The Wishing Game
Behold the Dreamers
The Mothers
All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Little Fires Everywhere
The Music Shop
Queenie
Where’d You Go, Bernadette
The Reckless Oath We Made
Dear Edward
When We Were Vikings
The Girl with the Louding Voice
Anxious People
A Good Neighborhood
Big Summer
All Adults Here
Happy & You Know It
Friends and Strangers
The Comeback
True Story
The Last Story of Mina Lee
Troubles in Paradise
White Ivy
This Close to Okay
The Chicken Sisters
The Prophets
The Kindest Lie
In a Book Club Far Away
The Other Black Girl
Apples Never Fall
A Quiet Life
We Are the Light
The Most Likely Club
The Fortunes of Jaded Women
When We Were Bright and Beautiful
The Hotel Nantucket